Another Day, Another Special Election

Senator David Trahan recently accepted a position as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.  This week he is meeting with the Ethics Commission to see if it is possible for him to remain in the Senate while serving SAM.  If he can pull that off, he undoubtedly would have to surrender the ability to lobby the legislature (among other things) until such time that he leaves the Senate, but that hasn’t stopped the increasing speculation that we will be facing yet another special election to fill his seat soon.

So, in the event that Trahan does jump ship and leave the legislature, let’s take a look at the potential race to replace him.

Let’s start with his district, Maine Senate District 20.

District 20 is quite conservative, with about 2,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.  Of course, independents (34.21%) outnumber both Republicans (34.08%) and Democrats (27.95%) here, but make no mistake, this is the Republican Party’s home turf.

Electorally, it has sent a steady diet of Republicans to Augusta by comfortable margins:

  • 2010 – David Trahan (56%) vs. Christopher Johnson (32%)
  • 2008 – David Trahan (53%) vs. Peter Rines (47%)
  • 2006 – Dana Dow (58%) vs. Kathleen King (42%)
  • 2004 – Dana Dow (56%) vs. Christopher Hall (44%)

Even in historically bad years for Republicans, such as 2006 and 2008, the contests weren’t particularly close.

The last time a Republican lost in this area was in 2002 under the previous configuration of legislative districts (then District 16) when Leslie Fossel lost on election night by two votes (!!) to Christopher Hall.  But again, keep in mind, while that district was similar, it was not the same.  The current district is more conservative, without a doubt.

So it is certain that the Republicans will be favored to keep this seat if Trahan leaves.  But it isn’t a slam dunk, the quality of candidates will matter.

Who will want to run, then?  Let’s take a look at the possible candidates.


Current Republican House members within the 20th Senate District are (stop me if you’ve heard some of these names before), Dana Dow, Jon McKane, and Leslie Fossel.  Wesley Richardson, Deborah Sanderson and Karen Foster represent parts of the 20th, but they themselves live outside of it.

Of those names, both Dow and Fossel are said to be interested in a run.  I am told that McKane, despite having such an awesomely familiar name, has absolutely no interest in running.

A couple of sources have also mentioned state committeewoman Ellen Winchenbach as a possible candidate as well.  She is from Waldoboro and is said to have her eye on either the Senate seat, or potentially the Waldoboro house seat, if it were to open up.

When recently asked about contenders for the seat, Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster named dropped both Dow and McKane, while seemingly ignoring Fossel and Winchenbach.  Why he would do this is anyone’s guess, but from what I am told Fossel is interested and considering a run, so we could very well have a contested race on our hands.

Dow, having previously represented the district in the past would naturally be marginally favored, but in races like this it really is anyone’s game.


The Democratic bench in this district is very thin.  They have only one current representative serving in this Senate district, and he may very well be the weakest potential candidate.  Current house member Bruce MacDonald is viewed as the most likely potential candidate, but Democratic observers lament that his chances would be rather thin.

The rest of the candidates that may mount a run are all former lawmakers who would be making a bid for a comeback.  Former representative Wendy Pieh, and former representative (and unsuccessful candidate for Senate) Peter Rines are said to be good options for the Democrats, but it is unclear who among them is interested in running at this point.

Rines made a strong challenge to Trahan in 2008, but that was a titanic year for Democrats not only nation wide, but in Maine as well.  It is hard seeing him being able to do as well as he did in 2008 without a massive Democrat turnout operation to help lift him up.  And Pieh was a four term member of the house, and relatively popular within a Republican district, but her margins of victory were too small for me to see her making up for the rest of the district’s tilt.  Still, as somebody with crossover appeal, she is probably the strongest possible contender.


This will be a heavy lift for the Democrats.  I always hate to make statements like that when we are talking about special elections in off years where turnout will be low and get out the vote efforts will matter more than anything else, but if Trahan does indeed step down from his seat, this would have to be considered a seat the Republicans would be favored to keep.

As such, the most interesting contest may be just which Republican is chosen to replace Trahan.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.